The ethnic music of the Faroe Islands is made up of ballads, hymns and rhymes (link). These music forms are all sung a capella and apart from some recently written ballad lyrics, these forms are by nature a part of Faroese tradition and they are a cultural treasure not only for the Faroe Islands but for European music history and heritage in general.
From reports by Jens Christian Svabo (1746-1824), who was a fiddle player, we know that instrumental folk dance music has been played on the Faroe Islands since the late 18th century, but even so, up until the 1970’s there was no distinct Faroese playing style and there were no local tunes. The repertoire consisted of tunes from Scandinavia and the British isles. Spælimenninir, a folk band, was formed in 1974 and pioneered the creation of new Faroese instrumental folk dance music and through them a large catalogue of Faroese waltzes, reinlenders, jigs, reels etc. has been established. Ívar Bærentsen, who is one of the musicians in Spælimenninir, alone has written several hundred tunes – some of which have also been adopted by artists from around the world. Other composers of folk tunes are, to mention a few, Pauli Hansen, Jakobina Hansen, Kristian Blak, Angelika Nielsen and Kim Hansen.
Folk songs only became popular on the Faroe Islands in the late 19th century – approximately 100 years after the instrumental folk music. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian lyrics were common, but some songs were also translated to or rewritten in Faroese. In the early 20thcentury, Jógvan Waagstein, Peter Alberg and Hans Jacob Højgaard among others began writing songs for social gatherings (højskole). Most of these songs were also arranged for choirs and composer Knút Olsen, who has written extensively for choir, still writes songs in this folk style.
In the late 1960’s, the group Harkaliðið with singer Annika Hoydal started arranging traditionally unaccompanied Faroese ethnic songs for band. They also wrote a large number of new songs – some in cabaret style – and altogether took Faroese vocal folk music in a new direction. Later, especially the troubadour Kári P. started writing socially and politically critical songs and thereby adding another dimension to the folk scene.
Since the 1980’s among the most active songwriters have been Ingun Simonsen, Pauli Hansen, Kári Sverrison and Óli Olsen. The two last ones wrote the majority of the music for folk group Enekk and Kári Sverrision is one of the most significant songwriters, arrangers and performers in the ethnic/world music genre – both in regards to new and traditional material.
Two young and internationally acclaimed artists, who should also be mentioned, are Teitur and Eivør. They both write in English as well as Faroese and while their English material – especially in the case of Teitur – leans more towards popular music; their Faroese material is predominantly in a folk music style.